The night before I moved to New York, I wrote down a quote I had found online and underlined it heavily – “I live in New York for the same reason as everyone else – to be able to rule the world if the opportunity arises.”
Seven years later, I write down another Gotham observation in my notebook: “New York City is this awful place where we make our babies sit in strollers next to homeless drunks.”
I moved here from Virginia when I was eighteen. When I was much younger, I wanted to live in California. I wanted to know what it would be like to wake up somewhere beautiful every day. When I decided to move to New York, I was tided over by visions of skyscrapers, giant Christmas trees, and a lit-up skyline. I’ve lived here for seven years now. The skyline is still pretty to me, but I can’t see it from my apartment. All I can see from the windows of my apartment are other apartments.
Sometimes I do climb to the roof, out of my fire escape and up the rickety black ladder that does not look supportive. I stare at the skyline from my perch in Queens. New York is so elusive. You can only see its beauty once you leave.
While riding the Q train into midtown, I read the text message the woman next to me composes. I read the whole conversation actually. ‘I need help,’ she said at the top. And now she types, ‘Someone is helping me. I feel better, but still bad.’
At first, my thighs touched other thighs on the subway, and I didn’t move away. Strangers held doors open for me and I walked through. But later I started to get scratched by zippers on purses and elbowed by rushed businessmen. Later I turned up the volume on my headphones if anyone even looked in my direction.
I met him years before when we lived in the sticks, and I ran into him one night in the city when I went to the wrong bar. He had the same effect on me as before, the one where I looked up at him heavy-lidded and laughed too easily. I yelled at myself when I got home for acting so enchanted.
Once we went on a double date and he said unexpectedly at the table, “How many kids does everyone want to have?” You could have confused this for him being ready to have kids, but actually he was so far from being ready it didn’t bother him to talk about it. It was like talking about burial options at seventeen.
On one of our first days, we walked through Central Park. As soon as we sat down, a wedding ceremony began to form. We didn’t look until we had to and even then we monitored our reactions carefully. This kind of thing happened to us a lot. We never ended upon benches dedicated to children or dogs, only spouses or eternal love. We rarely went out to dinner, but one of the times when we did the couple next to us got engaged. We started dating in the summer and we were invited to many weddings that fall. I never caught the bouquet at any of them, but I also never tried to catch the bouquet at any of them
There were times people said things like, “If you two were to get married…” or “If you two were to have kids…” I shrugged it aside always but privately, the idea of forever thrilled me. The thought of someone lying next to me for the rest of my nights. The thought of someone signing themselves to me as if contracting their life into mine. The thought of the end of it all.
But then sometimes I would think, do I really want it all to end? Here?
He was sweet, he was simple, he was not elusive. When standing in front of him I often felt as if I couldn’t breathe him in fast enough. But then there were the nights I’d stay up and think, I don’t want to be with him forever. He doesn’t read and I don’t want my kids to get the acne he had as a teenager. I dreamt of this scenario more times than makes sense, our kids popping zits in front of the mirror and me backing away saying, ‘That’s your father. I’ve never had a pimple in my life.’ What does it say about me that this is something I’ve thought about? This, out of everything?
When he told me about his transfer, we had been together just short of a year. His sentence trailed off. We were sitting on my bed and he still had his shoes on. There was a peak his cheekbones made right below the corners of his eyes that I liked to press my lips onto. I looked at those points before I looked in his eyes. Sometimes when I looked into them, I felt less instead of more. I didn’t know if he was asking me or not. It was more like he was waiting for me to tell him. It was more like he was waiting for me to choose.
Who did I love more? Who was more loyal? Who did I want to grow old with?
He was never really at one with New York. He complained about the expensive bodegas, the pineapple-infused bitters, the kids who danced on the subway. He lived far enough in Brooklyn that he had a car. I always pretended I didn’t know how to drive, like I had been in New York all along. He drove leisurely, one hand on the wheel and his foot lightly pressing the pedal. I was always sitting at the tip of the passenger seat staring at the speedometer. Go faster, go faster, I would say. This is taking us forever. He would look at me with slow frustration. Where do you think we’re going?
In all of my other relationships, New York was more a part of it. Sidewalks and street fairs and rooftops and restaurants and museums and coffee carts. But with him we were mostly inside. We cooked for each other and lay in bed together. He could have been happy anywhere. It was me who would move around, begging to go outside.
I need help. Could you really just say it like that?
The night he told me, he fell asleep while we watched a movie and I climbed to my fire escape to watch the traffic below. I couldn’t remember what was important to me, and I needed to.
I think we both wanted me to say no.
There was the night I first performed, a bundle of nerves that needed to be calmed, and he sat in the corner ordering beers instead of talking to me or my friends.
There were the nights I went with his friends. The times I tried to talk about sports or about hating work – but here was the thing, I loved my work. I loved every second of it, even when I was banging my head against a wall, trying to make it happen. Even then.
There were the times we sat at dinner and talked about our days. I was always either sluggish or ecstatic from what I had done that day – theatrical, I knew, mercurial. My mood swings did nothing for his side of the conversation. He was calm, he was steady, he was consistent. In the beginning, I liked that.
There was the time someone I barely knew asked if I loved him. Well, maybe, I said. And what’s the problem? She asked. I just…want a very full life. A big life. I gestured with my hands. I’d always had the idea that love hindered career.
And there were the nights we were together. The nights I lay against his chest and listened to him breathe. The hours we spent inside on the island of my bed laughing and nuzzling and murmuring. He always fell asleep so quickly, and I couldn’t catch sleep even with outstretched hands. There was the blueness of his eyes and the angles of his face. The way my mind quieted when we were together. Shh, shh, shhhhh. And when he left, everything rose up again. Revisionssubmissionsrejectionsstupidfreelancearticlesaboutmakeupandhowareyougoingtopullthisoff?
There were the days before I knew we would break up and I felt my heart contracting as it anticipated its plummet. I could see it just out of reach, ready to cloak me in darkness.
And then the months after. I drink beer and sit with friends and laugh and argue and forget to sleep when talking about what matters and I wait to be sad, wait to excuse myself, wait for my chest to crack. But it doesn’t. It never does. It’s too full with everything else.
About the author:
Kyle Lucia Wu is currently receiving her MFA in fiction at The New School. Her writing has appeared in Bird’s Thumb and Interview Magazine. She is working on a collection of short stories.